Virendra Kapoor

Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Najma Heptullah has had her eyes on becoming the vice-president of India for quite some time. She narrowly missed the bus last year when then prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral managed to prop up his fellow-Punjabi, Krishan Kant.

Now she hopes to realise her ambition, next time the election comes.

However, if her detractors in the Congress are to be believed she sights in her distant vision a possible snag -- in the shape of colleague and senior MP from Lakshadweep, P M Sayeed. The affable Sayeed is the consensus candidate of the Congress-led block in the Lok Sabha for the deputy speaker's post against the ruling BJP-led coalition's Rita Verma. Heptullah sees in Sayeed a possible rival for the vice-president's post a few years hence.

Sources close to the Congress president suspect that Heptullah had been feeding tidbits to a section of the press revealing Sonia Gandhi in rather poor light. It seems Sonia wanted to walk through the inner lobby in Parliament House to reach the Central Hall. The snag was that the particular lobby is exclusively reserved for sitting MPs. Even former MPs are allowed in the lobby only when the House is not in session.

Since she was neither an MP nor a former MP, Rajya Sabha marshals told the SPG that Sonia should avoid walking through the prohibited area. The incident found its way to a section of the language press. Sonia's minions believe that Najma had leaked it out to show her annoyance over Sayeed's nomination for the deputy speaker's post.

Alphons is back!

By the time these lines appear in print, Urban Affairs Minister Ram Jethmalani may well have succeeded in his `jihad' against the secretary to his ministry. For thanks to Ram's propensity to fight other peoples' battles, he has been on the warpath against Kiran Aggarwal, a senior bureaucrat who in due course could well end up as the Union cabinet secretary.

Ram took up cudgels against Aggarwal mainly because she wouldn't do the bidding of his scheming and highly ambitious personal assistant, K J Alphons. Ram has a tendency to blindly trust his close friends and aides.

On his personal intervention, Aggarwal and a couple of other senior bureaucrats are being transferred out. Ram wrote a long litany of complaints against Aggarwal in a letter to the prime minister. And followed it up by personally taking up his plea for her transfer with the PM. There was nobody to tell the PM the other side of the story, with the Union cabinet secretary failing to protect an extremely upright colleague.

Alphons, a relatively junior officer who incidentally runs a private trust of his own, cannot but be mighty pleased at his minister's gullibility.

No go for Delhi metro rail

One more tale about Jethmalani before we move on to matters important.

The national capital can well stop dreaming about the metro rail. Jethmalani for some inexplicable reason has virtually abrogated the initial MoU with the Japanese. The project has been on the anvil for close to a decade. Two years ago the global tender for the Rs 15 billion project had been awarded to a Japanese firm on competitive grounds. Now Jethmalani has re-opened the process again.

When the matter went to the Cabinet recently there was opposition to the cancellation of the contract. But being an ace lawyer, Ram put up a strong defence. As a compromise, the prime minister suggested that the proposal be examined by a group of ministers under the chairmanship of Home Minister L K Advani. This would necessarily delay the project further.

A senior Cabinet minister questioned the locus standi of the urban development ministry in the metro rail project: "It is essentially a railway project. If they can commission the Konkan railway, they can easily undertake the Delhi metro project. If the plea is that the land is owned by the urban development ministry, it can easily transfer the earmarked land and let the railways implement the project."

But none in the Cabinet was willing to rile Ram any further that day. As things are, the urban affairs ministry has a monopolistic hold over the metro rail project in Delhi.


Former actor Sanjay Khan, now reduced to making serials for Doordarshan, has a bone to pick with the needlessly combative Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharati, S S Gill.

Gill unceremoniously cancelled further telecast of Khan's serial on the monkey god, Hanuman. Khan tried the usual route. He met Gill's son through an intermediary in order to get an extension for his serial. When nothing worked, he dragged Gill to court.

Meanwhile, Khan and Gill exchanged curious letters wherein Gill concedes in writing that his son had indeed met him (Khan). But he is at pains to point out that Khan had sought his son out at the latter's house whereas Khan maintains that he had met the junior Gill through an intermediary at a third person's house.

But the question remains as to why Gill's son entertained Khan in connection with a matter which had nothing to do with him...

Too many cooks

The ministry of external affairs is working at cross-purposes, thanks to the multiplicity of bosses it is forced to take directions from.

Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Brajesh Mishra has virtually abnegated all other duties barring the stewardship of the MEA. Then there is prime minister's special envoy, Jaswant Singh, who often undertakes fire-fighting missions on behalf of the MEA. And then the PM himself acts as the foreign minister when he feels like it.

In this confusion, Singh's tentative proposal to visit China was leaked to the media forcing him to abandon the move. The finger of suspicion points to the very man who had persuaded Vajpayee to name China as the reason for India's nuclear tests in a letter to the US president. Serving and retired diplomats have privately agreed that the man who exploited the PM's trust to push his own anti-China agenda ought to have been sacked immediately.

In the present regime, however, he seems to be going from strength to strength!

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